Although balance is often discussed in our modern life in terms of diet and exercise, sometimes I think we forget about one absolutely vital element that costs nothing, but yet is often difficult to source; rest and proper sleep. The effects of not sleeping properly are many and varied and none of them are positive.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a night owl” ? (You might even consider yourself to be one). The simple fact is though, we are not possums, we are human! We are not nocturnal creatures which means that actually, our whole physiology thrives when we go to bed reasonably early and wake as the sun rises. No doubt this is why we begin to feel so much better when we go on a camping trip for a few days. Less artificial light, limited (if any) technological distractions and usually nothing pressing to do but organise meals, relax, exercise and talk to each other.
I’m no Paleo (or any type of food fadder), but it does strike me as far more relevant than avoiding fruit, that if Paleo man was as healthy as we imagine he was, perhaps it was also due to the fact that his day was spent on the move, expending energy simply to find calories. He would have been focussed on the task at hand rather than wasting time and energy over-thinking. After a day spent hunting, he probably ate a meal with his family/tribe (or had no choice but to fast), went to bed early and then woke at dawn to repeat the process. Of course he experienced stress, but it was probably a lot more in the moment than ours tends to be these days.
It’s also the case that the majority of us are drained when we go to bed because we feel the need to rest our heads, not our physical bodies. Apart from the fact that we all take on too much and lean towards a perfectionist mentality, most modern career-type jobs are mentally draining but tend to involve sitting for long periods of time. This means that when we get home, particularly if there are family obligations, there may be no proper down time. Consequently, we can end up going to bed with a head full of thoughts, dream all night, toss and turn and then wake up feeling foggy and exhausted.
In yogic health philosophy, we might suggest avoiding things that have rajasic qualities, for example, those things that are over-stimulating and instill a sense of restlessness or false energy (feeling wired for example).
Exercise, diet and sufficient rest/sleep are the most important factors when it comes to managing hormone levels and gut health (all connected) so if your sleep pattern or your teen/tweenager’s sleep patterns is out of wack, symptoms that can seem unrelated might begin to manifest.
Here are a few things you might like to try to help reset your body clock:
- When you find it difficult to sleep, don’t get up, but let go of trying to get to sleep (which makes you feel more stressed). Get into in a comfortable position – even child’s pose for a while – and observe your breathing. Focus on softening all your muscles particularly around the abdomen. Watch your thoughts but don’t get involved. Allow your mind and body to rest.
- Try this variation of a yogic pranyama exercise; visualise breathing in through your left nostril and out through your right. It’s like a circle. Try not to get caught up in whether or not this is actually happening, just maintain your focus on the pattern.
- Switch your phone and all technology off by 8.30pm at the latest. The light in your phone and your computer tricks your brain chemistry into believing it’s morning which screws with your serotonin/melatonin production. This can set off a chain reaction of chemical activity that may lead to a more serious hormonal imbalance.
- Avoid stimulating foods such as hot, spicy, garlicky or oniony food, particularly late at night.
- Try not to drink coffee or tea in the afternoon.
- Avoid heavy food – lots of meat/protein/heavy carbs – or big meals late at night.
- Avoid intense exercise at night. We wake with cortisol which exists to help us manage stress. It depletes during the day and in the evening we are often left with adrenaline (which is why we sometimes feel more emotional in the evening). A walk or yoga is better than boot camp or spin class.
- Try not to pick a fight in the evening….(see above..!)
- Tension is exhausting. Observe yourself during the day and be mindful of when it creeps in. Relax when you can. During a yoga class for example, relax and let go of the idea of having to “achieve”. The physical practice is a dynamic meditation that should create internal energy and induce calm. Nobody should be collapsing in a heap at the end of the class, depleted, having waited that long to chill!
- Dim the lights in your house after dinner. Have a warm bath. Take a magnesium tablet after dinner to help relax your muscles. Create a routine in the evening that’s based on winding down and avoid going to bed too late and laying in too long on the weekend.
Yep, I have an almost teen and know how difficult it can be to say no and fight the fight when it comes to switching all the gadgets off at night, particularly when there’s the homework excuse, but it’s worth it. Some children have so completely stuffed their sleep pattern they are having to go to sleep clinics for a few weeks for a reset (where they also go cold turkey on the technology),
All in all, in order to feel better, think diet, exercise AND proper rest; let’s not confuse adrenaline and feeling wired with energy.